The last thing I expected to find in a suburb of Vancouver is affordable gentle density but that’s why they say you should travel. It truly does expand your mind.
As my patient reader knows too well, I was in that city recently to attend the ultimate national championships with Eldest, who was playing for the Saskatchewan team (Go Wheaties!). My job is to cheer, take pictures, fly/drive places and pay for things. This, as you can imagine, gives me some time to sample local brewing and also take Serious Notes on Stuff that Ain’t Like Home.
The way the teams do things at big ultimate tournaments like this is to cram young athletes into a hotel, four to a room, for bonding. Or so they say. My belief is that’s the most efficient way to contain the smell of cleats.
Seeing as Eldest is fast approaching 17 years of age, she is perfectly happy to have me stay somewhere other than her hotel. And frankly, as much as I love all of my kids, the feeling is totally mutual.
I found myself a one-bedroom suite about 10 minutes away via Vrbo. It was described as a suite with private entrance, kitchen, living room, bathroom, washer/dryer, and bedroom. It didn’t say it had AC and I didn’t think to check because in British Columbia you rarely need that. Except during unprecedented heat waves, which — lucky me — started the day we showed up.
Fortunately, being in this blessed time of life that can go without its name being mentioned, I’m no stranger to night sweats. I slept like a slightly damp log.
My lodging, all told, cost me a touch under $400 for three nights. Compared to just over $400 a night I would have had to shell out at my kid’s hotel, a spectacularly mediocre Four Points, this was a steal and a half. Other than the lack of AC, my little rented abode on 151 Street was absolutely perfect.
That street is residential, with big houses and mature trees all over. Very close to it is a Safeway, a liquor store, a Starbucks and a gigantic Shoppers, and plenty of other shops, gyms and whatnots.
For those of you who don’t know, Surrey is the second most populated city in British Columbia, with a little over 600,000 people. It is, I am assured, growing fast.
Eldest didn’t like it all that much. She found it sadder than Vancouver, which she loved. When I pressed her to flesh out her impression, she said Surrey had “more crime and fewer trees.” The latter is easily verifiable with the naked eye (she also compared Carling Avenue to Vancouver most unfavourably by saying it looked like a badly-rendered video game because there are no shadows), but how did she know about the former, which by the way is accurate? Just a solid hunch.
In my lovely apartment located on the ground floor of a 4,000 square foot mansion on a quiet, leafy street, I didn’t feel that one bit. And as I jogged around the neighbourhood, I saw many — many — similar mansions and large houses that are multi-family homes. They look freaking grandiose but when you stroll in front of them before 7 am you see lots of tradespeople coming out of them, lunchbox in hand, headed for their utility vans. I’m sure there are rich people in Surrey but they don’t live in these homes. Normal people do.
I found an article, from 2016, in the Tyee detailing how some of those homes in the Greater Vancouver area got transformed into multi-family homes without — that’s key — destroying the character of residential neighbourhoods. This other article, from 2017 and specific to Surrey, gives some numbers on the growth of multi-family housing. Which is great, by the way, for those who want to live in multi-generational settings without piling everyone into the same exact living room.
What I can tell you is to this Ottawan, used as I am to the only two extremes of single family homes with big unused lawns and giant towers, it felt more than a little surreal to be surrounded by this many lovely homes full of normal people.
In theory, everyone is in favour of gentle density yet for some reason in Ottawa it’s a real struggle to attain it. Going to Surrey helped me realize it was possible to achieve it very elegantly indeed.